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John Ross and the Cherokee Indians
By Rachel Caroline Eaton (1914)


There is no more tragic history than that of the Cherokee Indians. The steady growth and development of this group of aborigines living among the mountains of Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee is interesting as showing their capacity for building a culture of their own. Landowners, masters of negro slaves, inventors of an alphabet of their own and organizers of an adequate civil government, they offered from the close of the American revolution to the advent of Andrew Jackson, a unique example of Indian life. And what is more important to the student of the politics of the United States the Cherokees proposed to form a state of their own after the manner of the other states of the Union. This bold proposition raised many problems: What would the people of Georgia do if the United States refused to guarantee the integrity of her boundaries? What would the Federal Supreme Court answer to a petition under the treaties with the national government for local authority and self-government inside the bounds of one of the original thirteen states? And if the Georgians and the Indians came to blows what would be the effect of Federal intervention?

Thus we see that the history of the Cherokee Nation offers a good opportunity to any student who has sympathy for the natives and a proper sense for the realities of the American national development. Mrs. Eaton in her Life of John Ross, about whose career centers most of the story of the Cherokee exploitation and sorrowful removal to Oklahoma has touched upon or answered most of these questions, and her story is presented clearly and in most interesting manner. The book ought to find many readers.

William E. Dodd, University of Chicago,

September 30, 1914.


In the written records of America, the place accorded the aboriginal peoples who once ruled over the whole western world can scarcely be considered a reputable one. The very name Indian is a misnomer, due to a geographical error of the fifteenth century which enlightened knowledge has failed to correct.

On the pages of United States history the Indian usually appears seated at the council fire, grimly plotting the destruction of his enemy, or, formidable in feathers and war paint, tomahawk in hand, he lurks darkly on the outskirts of civilization awaiting an opportunity to fall upon defenseless pioneers whose scalps he can display as proof of his prowess. That he has ever cherished any but sinister sentiments for those who dispossessed him of his birthright, or that he has exercised any but destructive influences upon the history of the country, has been too often ignored. It is even denied that he is capable of Anglo-Saxon civilization.

Nevertheless it is true that some of the most eminent physicians, eloquent preachers, prominent authors, astute financiers and constructive statesmen in America today are of this same aboriginal. stock.

The aim of this historical sketch is to trace the evolution from barbarism to civilization of one of the most progressive tribes of North American Indians; to give a sympathetic interpretation of their struggle to maintain their tribal entity and their ancestral domains against the overwhelming tide of economic development advancing from the Atlantic seaboard westward; to relate the story of their forcible removal to the western wilderness where, in the midst of hard-won prosperity, they were plunged into the horrors of the Civil War. John Ross, by reason of his chieftainship, of nearly four decades, was one of the most interesting of several able men of this tribe.

In the preparation of the book abundant use has been made of the manuscripts placed at my disposal by the Sequoyah Historical Society of Claremore, Oklahoma, of the Payne Manuscripts in the Ayer Collection of the Newberry Library, Chicago, and of the manuscript letters and records in the United States Indian Office.

I am also deeply indebted to Mr. Leon C. Ross and Mr. Robert B. Ross of Tahlequah, Oklahoma, for the free use of their rare collection of letters and documents; to Mr. A. S. Wyley for information on Cherokee education, and to Mr. Andrew Cunningham and Colonel J. C. Harris for access to the Cherokee National records at Tahlequah.

To Professor Edward M. Sheppard of Drury College, who first encouraged me to take up the study of Indian history, I owe sincere thank.. To Professor William E. Dodd, of the University of Chicago, without whose helpful suggestions and unfailing interest the book would never have been completed, I desire to express my special gratitude. For a critical reading of the manuscript I am under obligations to Professors A. C. McLaughlin, Francis W. Shepardson and Frederick Starr of the University of Chicago.

In addition to those mentioned there are others whom I wish to thank for assistance rendered and encouragement given. Among these is Mrs. Frances J. Moseby, my late colleague at the Industrial Institute and College of Mississippi.

Finally, if the background of the story adds anything to the merit of the book, the credit is due to Mrs. Lucy Ward Williams, one of the last of the fireside historians of her race, whose vital interest in her people constrained her to repeat their story in season and out of season until it was rooted and grounded in my memory from earliest childhood.


Chapter I
The Youth and Early Training of John Ross
Chapter II
Early History of the Cherokees
Chapter III
The Coming of the Missionaries
Chapter IV
John Ross Beginning His Public Career
Chapter V
Georgia's Growing Demand for Indian Land
Chapter VI
Georgia's Hostility to the Cherokees
Chapter VII
The Cherokees Adopt a Constitution
Chapter VIII
The Removal Bill
Chapter IX
Factional Strife
Chapter X
The National Executive Refuses Protection to the Indians
Chapter XI
The New Echota Treaty
Chapter XII
Opposition to the Treaty
Chapter XIII
Compulsory Removal
Chapter XIV
The Trail of Tears
Chapter XV
A Triple Tragedy
Chapter XVI
Political Readjustment
Chapter XVII
Political Readjustment, Concluded
Chapter XVIII
Two Decades of Economic Development
Chapter XIX
The Civil War
Chapter XX
The Civil War, Concluded
Chapter XXI
Reconstruction of the Cherokee Nation

A Letter from John Ross
The Principle Chief of the Cherokee Nation to a Gentleman from Philadelphia (1837)

The following letter was received in Philadelphia, about the period of its date, in May last. Its appearance was deferred, in consequence of a desire to accompany it with a few observations upon the general subject of Indian annals in the United States. The preparation of these has been so long delayed, that further postponement would be inexcusable. It has, therefore, been determined to give publicity to the letter, reserving its intended accompaniment for a future occasion, and a different medium.

The writer is sensible of the lameness of his apology for so long withholding from the public, a production of so much interest and merit; and seeks to lessen the blame he might incur by expressing the hope, that it may induce a second communication from the author, detailing some events which have occurred since its composition.

The temper of this epistle, will commend it to the kind consideration of every calm and dispassionate mind, whilst its facts and reasonings must carry conviction to all readers. It is a skilful and comprehensive survey of the Cherokee question, and unfolds in cool language, a course of conduct which makes the patriotic cheek burn with shame, and the patriotic heart glow with indignation. May its perusal produce the proper effect in the proper quarter, and induce those elevated measures which policy, humanity, and honour concur to recommend. No achievement of national might is equal, in greatness, to the performance of NATIONAL JUSTICE, and without this, what is called national honour, is not only an empty name, but a false and ironical ascription.

Philadelphia, December 26, 1937.

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A beautiful traditional Cherokee song, set to a slideshow of American Indians from many tribes

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